Parenting, Relationships

When Mom’s Have Had Enough

During these days of isolation, I have been purging files — cleaning out family history folders and having my daughter help me scan photos, documents, and histories and post them on FamilySearch.

It makes us both feel productive, and I love reducing the loads of paper I’ve been hauling around for so long.

The process can be a little slow and tedious because I take too much time reading, remembering, and then, wondering whether I can actually throw some things away that have such sentimental value.

Like how can I throw this away — a photo of my five-year-old self?

Today, I found a little gem that I wrote many years ago that must be shared because it probably expresses how some moms might feel today after having their kids home from school now for what feels like forever.

I love my kids. The snow is pretty. I love my kids. The snow is pretty.

I’ve been repeating this mantra now for weeks.

It is not working anymore.

I love my kids, but enough already.

They need to be in school.

I need them to be in school.

First, it was 9/11 when they were in lockdown at school and we couldn’t wait to get them home, but we couldn’t go anywhere without worrying about terrorists.

Then, it was the snippers on the loose, and we couldn’t go anywhere for fear of being shot. The kids couldn’t even play outside at recess.

And, now it’s the snow that just won’t stop, requiring school to be canceled for what seems like forever.

The news folks aren’t helping things because they report on the snow with such enthusiasm and excitement.

Enough already with the news!

I find myself being mad at D.C. and its wimpy ways when it comes to snow.

I tell my kids, “When I grew up in Utah, we never missed school because of the snow.”

“Whatever, mom” they say as they roll their eyes back into their pretty little heads.

Did I mention that these eye-rolling-whatever-mom kids should be in school?

I’m worried about them losing all their brain power because they watch TV shows that suck out all their intelligence. I’m sure I’m going to find the contents of their brains spilled out in messy puddles all over the house any day now.

I want to talk to them about things other than code orange days, evacuation plans, and hoarding duct tape. (Why we need the tape is beyond me.)

And why do we keep hearing that we need evacuation plans? Evacuating is not an option because we can barely get out of our neighborhoods, let alone to our “planned family safety zones.”

Maybe an evacuation wouldn’t be so bad right now.

Wait, what am I saying?

I didn’t really mean that.

You know I didn’t really mean it. It’s just that I’m feeling a little frayed around the edges, a little more irritable than usual.

I tried yoga to calm myself down and I felt very zen until I walked into the family room and heard Sponge Bob Square Pans’ squeaky prepubescent voice singing about living in a pineapple under the sea…again.

My only coping mechanism is to go into the bathroom where I can be alone. Except that doesn’t work either because the dog parks himself outside the door and whines until I come out.

So, I try to propel myself forward by envisioning the happy day when life is normal and these beautiful, yellow stretch limousines pull up near our house and my girls can’t wait to climb in them. These luxury vehicles carry them away to a wonderful place of learning called SCHOOL, and they are happy to be there because they have missed seeing their friends, discussing math, science, English, and history, and learning songs in French. They can’t wait to do their homework and go to soccer practice, dance class, and resume piano lessons.

I imagine they are safe and the world is a good place, and I can go to the gym, the grocery store, the mall, have lunch with my friends, keep the house clean, cook less, turn the TV off, and then happily gather with them in the late afternoon to hear all about what happened while they were at school. I will soak it up because I will have missed them so much in those short hours we were apart.

Oh, imagine the joy that will one day be mine.

But, for now, I repeat these words: “I love my kids. The snow is pretty. I love my kids. The snow is pretty.”

Family, Parenting

Happy Birthday Sara

Twenty-four years ago I left the hospital with a new beautiful baby girl.

IMG_3858

Our doctor refused to tell us whether we were having a boy or a girl because he wanted it to be a surprise.

But, I knew before I entered the hospital that I would have a girl and that her name would be Sara without an h.

She’d visited me in a dream about four years before she was born.

I knew she would be a wise, strong-willed, bright-eyed girl with striking blonde hair and I knew we would turn out to be great friends. I also knew that she would be smart and not afraid to speak her mind.

All of that turned out to be true.

I had no idea then though how she would change my life.

After three months of trying to figure out how to care for a new baby and how to survive colic,  I went back to work on Capitol Hill because that’s what liberated women of the 1990s did after they had babies.

Or so I thought.

Is it terrible to confess I looked forward to going back to work because I knew how to handle a job better than how to handle a newborn?

Then, as I wrote in a blog a few years ago, everything changed one night in January of 1991 when we saw the Gulf War erupt on national television.

Calls from news reporters quickly jammed my phone line.

“What is the senator’s reaction?  Are you going to have a press conference? When can we get an interview? Do you have a statement?”

I immediately called the senator and we started planning our response.

Right then, my husband came into the room carrying our six-month-old Sara, who had been with our nanny all day.

Sara giggled with delight when she saw me and threw her soft little arms around my neck.

I covered the phone, and pushed her away and said, “Not now Doug! This is important!”

I looked at Sara’s disappointed face, and my heart sank.

“What am I doing?” I thought. “Not even a war is more important to me than my child.”

Still, I had to go back to work. I left home, drove back to Capitol Hill.

I spent the night answering phone calls, sending out news releases, and organizing a press conference.

I arrived home to a dark house, climbed the stairs to Sara’s nursery and looked at her sleeping soundly in her crib holding on to her Raggedy Ann doll.

I kissed her soft cheek, brushed back her bright blonde hair, and silently apologized for pushing her away.

Standing there looking at her in the late hours of the night, I knew I had to quit.

My job was not compatible with my family priorities.

I loved my job.  I loved how it made me feel – competent, in control, and fulfilled.

I wanted to be like my friends who I thought “had it all.”

They had successful careers and happy families.

But, I knew that wasn’t going to work for me, at least not with the type of job I had then.

So, I eventually quit.

I didn’t adjust easily to my new role as a stay-at-home mother. My ego definitely suffered.

It took time to find a new rhythm and to essentially repurpose my life and myself.

Now, here I am alone at this computer in my empty house over 20 years later, looking back on the day Sara came into my life.

Did I do the right thing by quitting?

Did I lose an unrecoverable part of myself in all those years?

In the end, those seemingly ponderous questions are really just perfunctory because I know the answers without even thinking about them.

c96bd84a041d0309f81a18aecf26bb6aI did the right thing.

I used to think I did it for Sara, that I quit working because it would be best for her (and eventually for Annie) if I stayed home.

Now I know the truth.

 

They would have been fine with a nanny or in after school day care.

In fact, Annie begged me to go back to work so that she could go to after-school care with her friends.

In the end, the choice wasn’t really about what was best for them.

I knew I’d be a better mother and wife if I didn’t have a demanding career competing for my time and attention.

If I had to go back and start over, I’d do the same thing all over again.

If I’d known then what I know now, I’d have settled into it with more grace and less envy of friends who had fulfilling, highly successful careers and managed to be amazing, engaged mothers.

I’d tell myself every day that it would be worth it.

I’d remind myself that in 24 years, when Sara is off working and cutting her own remarkable path in life, I’d have no regrets.

sara

I thought I was letting go of so much all those years ago when I become a mother, quit my job, and started a new kind of life, but when I look back I realize the opposite is true.

I didn’t lose anything.

I gained everything.

Happy Birthday Sara.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Family, Parenting, Uncategorized

Scrapbooking — One thing I did right

Like everybody, I spend too much time worrying about what I do wrong or what I don’t do well enough.

For today, I’m going to focus on a few things I’ve done right.

One of those things  was creating scrapbooks of our family life.

I may not have been the craftiest, most artistic scrapbooker in the universe, but I preserved my kids’ childhoods and my own memories in archival quality books.

My favorite pages are the ones with close-up photos  — the ones that capture a mood, a moment, a place, a personality. I love the “photo shoot” of Sara when she wore her blue and white checked, pleated skirt for several days in a row. (She’s always been a skirt girl.) She posed for a photo in nearly every room in the house.IMG_2275

I love the photos of Annie in all her “roles,” like when she set up her art easel on the deck, plopped on her beret and spoke French to me while she painted. Or when she packed her Bitty Baby suitcase, her backpack and her doll on a little vacation in the backyard.IMG_2276

Here are a few lessons I’ve learned about scrapbooking:

  1. Focus on the photos themselves, not on the embellishments and cute factor of each page.
  2. Journal! Details can quickly be forgotten.
  3. Go simple. Trends come and go and all the stickers, die-cuts, paper-layering, etc. will fade into the background later because all you want is to see the faces and places you love.
  4. Don’t scrapbook the same kinds of events over and over. I have a million soccer and cheerleading pictures. After awhile, they all look the same.
  5. You only need the best of the prom, dance, sports, party pictures. Keep all the digital photos you want on your computer or storage device, but don’t put them all in a scrapbook. It will overwhelm you and become monotonous in your books.
  6. Perhaps the best advice is to keep duplicates of the close-ups. I can’t tell you how many times I needed photos for school projects, award ceremonies, graduation timelines, and now, for a montage of childhood pictures for a wedding luncheon.  Keep a folder of representative photos over the years so that you don’t have to ply them out of scrapbooks and damage them in the process. (If I’d kept extra copies, my photos in this blog would look better too!)

One final thought…When I was diagnosed with cancer, I stopped making scrapbooks. Partly because I had no energy, and partly because Facebook had become a photo repository, but largely because I didn’t want to see photos of my puffy face, bloated body, bald head, and vacant eyes. But, as soon as that was behind me, I wished I had photographed the entire journey. It’s a critical part of my life history. I’m sorry I didn’t do a better job of collecting photos of myself and my family as we struggled through it.

 

In the end, we are creating the books of our lives as we live them. All the important events — including some of the ones we would like to forget — should be included to show the ups and downs of the journey.

Learn from me.

If you haven’t started family scrapbooks, do it — in some form. If you have quit, like me, consider how to pick it up again. I signed up for a scrapbooking evening with some friends to help motivate me. I won’t worry about being artistic and clever this time. I will only try to get the photos that tell our stories.

I’ve always kept Journals too. Some are more consistent than others. Lately, there are too many gaps in time, and I want to work on that.

Journals are important too, but the visual gift of a photo from another time is priceless in helping savor the experiences of our lives.

I read this quote that sums it up best: “My grandmother made me a scrapbook because I was once too young to remember; I am making scrapbooks for my family because one day I may be too old to remember.”

Family, Parenting, Relationships, Uncategorized

We said yes!

As many of you know, my daughter Annie spent part of the summer in Africa.

On her way home!
On her way home!

She came home on a Thursday. Her boyfriend, Josh, flew here Friday and stayed at her friend’s house.

(Thank you SKN!)

Then, Saturday morning, he surprised her by proposing at Eastern Market on Capitol Hill.

First glance at him
First glance at him

If I’d had any doubts about this marriage idea before, they were quickly washed away when I saw the joy in Annie’s face when she spun around to see him standing behind her with a bouquet of sunflowers.

Notice I wrote that “if” I’d had any doubts. That is different from I “had” doubts.

I’ve been thinking about this proposal for a while now as we plotted and schemed about the best way to pull it off.

yes

As Annie became closer to this boy, friends would ask, “Are you okay with this?”

What do you say to that question?

I said, “I trust Annie,” which is true. She doesn’t make important decisions lightly. Ever.

But, what does it take for a mother to really be “okay” with her 20-year-old daughter getting married?

yes2

Since I’ve known about this pending engagement, I’ve felt like Steve Martin in the movie, “Father of the Bride” when he looks at his daughter after she announces she’s getting married, and he see’s a six-year-old telling an engagement story. (Similar to how I felt when she said she was going to Africa!)

Cover of "Father of the Bride (15th Anniv...
Cover via Amazon

http://www.imdb.com/video/screenplay/vi135569689/

In the abstract, I’d imagined me scrutinizing every facet of the boy’s life, character, family, and personality.

I know it’s cliché but, every parent wonders if anybody will ever be good enough for their child.

I mean, we’re talking about my Annie here, my baby girl, born with all that wild hair all over her head, the one who was so cute the doctor kept dropping by my hospital room just to hold her and play with her hair. In fact, she said, she’d never seen a cuter baby. (I had a different doctor when Sara was born or she would have said Annie was as cute. A mother always has to cover her bases, you know.)

Dr. T. thought Annie looked like she’d stopped at a heavenly hair salon for some highlights before coming to earth.

Does this boy who wants to marry her know what she means to me?

Does he know that when she was in pre-school and sang, “You are my Sunshine,” that my heart melted like a popsicle in the hot sun?

Does he know that song became “our song?” Does he know that we wrote love notes to each other all our lives and ended with, “Always remember,  you are my sunshine?”

That girl’s happiness means more to me than words can ever describe.

So, again, how does a mother get “okay” with her daughter getting married?

It’s like putting my heart and hers in the palm of a stranger’s hand and saying, “Be careful with it,” and then praying like crazy he knows how much I mean it.

Before Annie left for Africa she said Josh wanted to talk to Doug to ask his permission.

“In our family, he needs to ask the mother too,” I said.

I knew Doug would be too much of a soft touch. If anyone was going to do the scrutinizing and deep, investigative reporting, it would have to be me.

I had my opportunity for this big talk a few weeks ago when Josh and I went to lunch.

A weird thing happened at that lunch.

Even though I was armed with questions, and had ignited my full-on mother radar , a softness took over me, and my goal became to see Josh as Annie saw him.

Instead of wanting to grill him, I wanted to love him. I wanted to love and appreciate the man Annie knows and loves.

And, guess what?

It was easy.

I received a beautiful gift and sensed the humble, sweet spirit of a young man who truly adores my baby girl.

So, when she said “Yes” to him at Eastern market, so did I.

yes 3

I’m okay with this.

I’m okay with him.

I’m more than okay. I’m excited because I can see why he chose her; and why she chose him.

And, this mother is quite okay.

But, Josh, always remember, she was my sunshine first…

You Are My Sunshine
You Are My Sunshine (Photo credit: Enokson)

Family, Parenting

How to Motivate Kids

A couple of weeks ago, my neighbor asked me to write a blog about how to motivate kids to get good grades.

Report Card
Report Card (Photo credit: AJC1)

She asked me how I motivated my kids.

I had to think about it for a minute to remember, then I squirmed a little.

“Money,” I said.

I honestly don’t know whether our offers of cash motivated them, but we tried it.

Our plan was to push them a little harder to get As. So we paid a premium for As, less for Bs and Zippo for grades below a B.

I’m afraid our system turned out to be about as bad as our allowance plans. They started out strong and waned over time.

This happened to the Tooth Fairy too. She was a flibbertigibbet of a fairy really. I think she didn’t know what to do with all those teeth she collected so sometimes she forgot to do her job.

Cover of "Dear Tooth Fairy (All Aboard Re...
Cover of Dear Tooth Fairy (All Aboard Reading)

One morning we found a note on Annie’s pillow that said, “Dear Tooth Fairy, you should be fired! You forgot to do your job.”

The forgetful fairy quickly flitted into our house the next night and doubled the prize for the little tooth resting under Annie’s pillow.

But, back to my neighbor’s question about how to motivate her kids to get good grades.

Her problem is really not motivating them to get good grades, it’s encouraging them to get the best grades they can. She believes her oldest son is capable of getting straight As. He’s a smart, talented student with outstanding athletic abilities. She’s sees scholarships in his future and believes he should do everything he can to snag the best ones out there.

I remember asking friends and neighbors the same question about incentives when my kids entered high school. Most people told me they rewarded their children with money, phones, video games or promised to pay their car insurance or give them driving privileges. One woman told me if her children got straight As all through high school, she promised to buy them a car.

We didn’t go that far.

Cell Phones
Cell Phones (Photo credit: Scallop Holden)

Others used the punishment system – poor grades equalled loss of privileges like getting a driver’s license or playing video games.

Doug’s parenting theory is that the reason parents give their kids things is so that they can take them away. We relied on that for bad behavior but never really needed to punish for bad grades —  not that they always got straight As, but we always felt they were doing their best, and if their best only got a B or even a C in some classes, we applauded the effort more than the grade. (I honestly hate the grading and testing system in our schools, but that’s an entirely different blog!)

When it came to grades specifically, compliments for good work went a long way. We hoped gushing over the As or rewarding them inspired them to get more As.

Sometimes their best motivation came from their peers. When their friends were high achievers, they wanted to be too. It also helped that they set their sights early on getting into Brigham Young University, a school with high admission standards. Their strong desire to get into BYU spurred them to do their best, and actually seemed to do more than money. (Remember, however, that our money incentive plan went the way of allowance and the lazy tooth fairy…They faded out over time.

I did a little internet research and learned there is a lot of debate on this topic. Some think financial rewards are shallow and meaningless, and that we shouldn’t reward kids for doing what they should be doing anyway. Getting good grades is what they should be doing anyway so there shouldn’t be any further motivation. Others say that monetary rewards are effective and give them yet another reason for working hard.

 

While we obviously want our children to develop their own healthy motivation, sometimes it takes more maturity on their part for them to discover their own internal, personally drive and determination.

Some parents recommended rewarding kids with dinner at their favorite restaurant or buying them the new coveted toy or item they want.

I think the best idea I read was asking kids what they really want. Ask them, “What would motivate you?”

Some kids said a weekend ski trip, a new video game, a ticket to a special event or a special item of clothing motivated them.

What do all of my loyal blog readers think?

For all you parents, what works? What doesn’t? What do my kids think? Did any of our parenting ploys work? For all the college students who can still remember what their parents did, what worked? I’d love your answers and advice.

I’ll be sure to pass it on to my neighbor!